How aspect-ratio affects near-ground swimmers

Animals and bio-inspired robots can swim/fly faster near solid surfaces like the seafloor. In the past, researchers had quantified how strong these effects were for two-dimensional airfoils. We studied how these results extend to the three-dimensional fins. We found that lowering the aspect ratio weakens the effect of the surface: thrust enhancements become less noticeable, stable equilibrium altitudes shift lower and become weaker, and wake asymmetries become less pronounced. (This work was done in collaboration with the Biofluids Research Lab at Lehigh University.)

Authors: Qiang Zhong, Tianjin Han, Keith Moored, & Daniel Quinn

Abstract: Animals and bio-inspired robots can swim/fly faster near solid surfaces, with little to no loss in efficiency. How these benefits change with propulsor aspect ratio is unknown. Here we show that lowering the aspect ratio weakens unsteady ground effect, thrust enhancements become less noticeable, stable equilibrium altitudes shift lower and become weaker and wake asymmetries become less pronounced. Water-channel experiments and potential flow simulations reveal that these effects are consistent with known unsteady aerodynamic scalings. We also discovered a second equilibrium altitude even closer to the wall (<0.35 chord lengths). This second equilibrium is unstable, particularly for high-aspect-ratio foils. Active control may therefore be required for high-aspect-ratio swimmers hoping to get the full benefit of near-ground swimming. The fact that aspect ratio alters near-ground propulsion suggests that it may be a key design parameter for animals and robots that swim/fly near a seafloor or surface of a lake.

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